Monday, 20 September 2010

Gallifrey: Weapon of Choice written by Alan Barnes and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: The Time Lords of Gallifrey were the first to map the Web of Time. Now, under the reforming gaze of President Romanadvoratrelundar, the oldest civilisation is ready to shed its monopoly, sharing its secrets with a coalition of the Temporal Powers the Monan Host, the Nekkistani and the Warpsmiths of Phaidon among them. But the coalition is a fragile one, and despised in some quarters. When a team of Time Technology Assessors makes a horrific discovery on the barren moon of Kikrit, it seems their enemies are arming themselves to strike at the alliance. Has a terrorist group really acquired a temporal weapon so terrible the Time Lords forgot about its existence? In search of the truth, Romana sends the woman called Leela and the robot dog K9 to the enclave of Gryben, a reception centre for temporal refugees. But the truth is war's first casualty and the fallout could destroy them all.

Presidential Babe: Ladies and Gentleman please welcome Lalla Ward back to the world of Doctor Who! One of the smartest performers the series has been lucky to have; she heads up the Gallifrey series with her usual wit and gravitas. As we saw in Zagreus and The Apocalypse Element the audios have chosen to follow the same route as the novels with Romana as President of Gallifrey. Its one of the few things they agree on before splitting off and doing their own thing and creating their own continuity (is there anyway this Romana could become the black haired bitch that hunted down the Doctor in The Ancestor Cell?). Regardless, this is an impressive first showing for Romana, surrounded by enemies and threats, maintaining her cool and cutting through to the heart of the matter. An impressive debut.

Her mood is described as above apoplexy and below incandescence (they just like using big words, don’t they?). The idea of the infiltration of the CIA and the theft of a Timonic Fusion Device frightens her. I really enjoyed her relationship with the High Monan (it reminded me of the conversations between Sisko and Kai Winn in DS9), it’s loaded with threats and subtle innuendos. She makes a subtle mention that she can’t ask the Doctor for advice anymore (trapped as he is in the Divergent Universe). Romana finds it unnerving when Braxiatel is quiet. Imperiatrix is not a title she is used to hearing. I loved her tired reaction to Arcadian’s theatrics, asking for his extradition to be fast tracked. Romana faces accusations that her affection for the refugees on Gryben has affected her judgement. She stage-manages a hostage situation…with her as the hostage! Her subjects think that she is a radical but she considers herself a traditionalist, that with power comes responsibility. Romana calls the bluff and lets the TFD detonate figuring that if she is wrong her conscience wont have long enough to prickle. Some might call it an ego but she comes to the conclusion that this whole sorry affair has been about deposing her. Romana trusts Arcadian because he is an honest rogue and he considers her the perfect combination of wisdom, beauty and wit. She intends to keep her job for a very long time.

Noble Savage: Just about the only character that could topple Romana in the interest stakes, Louise Jameson returns as the highlight of the story, Leela. Jameson had created one of the more unusual and interesting companions and it is wonderful to see her back and given some exceptional writing. Leela makes a welcome addition to the series, as she is the outsider, the one who considers the Time Lords a devious, manipulative race and provides a welcome perspective on their insidiousness. Not only that but because she relies entirely on her instincts and reveals great wisdom, a fascinating counterpoint to the Time Lords reliance on logic and intellect. Basically, Leela rocks!

An outsider to the life in the City, Leela attempts to join the Tribe that live in the wastelands of Gallifrey. Andred was her lover and they proudly walked the Capitol together, happily mated. She walks alone in all things but has much to offer, she does not like her hand being forced. Her instincts tell her that Andred is dead but she wants answers. I was roaring with laughter at her method of shopping: pay or fight! When she is outnumbered by her enemies she does not consider it an unfair fight, there are simply more people to hurt and she is not afraid to fight alone. Haggling is clearly an art that she has not yet mastered. A terrible actress, her attempts to play along fail hilariously. I loved it when Leela listed all of the things she despised about the Time Lords; they hate the unalike, they sooth with promises and flattery, they promise only to deceive, they use too many words, they think that other people are crude animals to be penned. They are a bad Tribe. In a moment of triumph she threatens to disembowel Torvald and exposes a Monan Spy, catching them both of guard. Leela understands the people of Gryben, how they have had to learn to fight. When questioned how she ended up working for people she can’t stand she simply replies, ‘It is how it ended up.’ She is extremely proud to be appointed Presidential Bodyguard with K.9 as her security advisor.

Great Ideas: The thing I love about the Gallifrey series is that it makes up its own rules; it has its own style of language and has a very unique flavour unlike anything else in the Doctor Who canon. It plays with planet-sized ideas like spinning plates; it creates a world of politics, sweeping storylines and exotic locations. Having cherry picked the best elements of Doctor Who, it does its own thing with them and superlatively.

The four great time powers are Gallifrey, the Warpsmiths of Phaidon, the Monan Host and the Nekestan. The introductory scenes set up the story well; a containment chamber holding a briefcase and inside a Timonic Fusion Device (TFD). The device is a result of Project Alpha, to create a weapon that would napalm the time timeline, to erase embarrassing stings but it could not be contained so the research was abandoned. Access to the time vortex is regulated and if you attempt to enter with the correct temporal knowledge and codes your craft is diverted to Gryben. It is a processing centre where each claim for access to the vortex is dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Unauthorised access to the vortex used to be dealt with in a far less civilised manner. I loved the idea of K.9 as the intergalactic slave trader! He can’t resist hamming it up, the old sea dog (and his quiet, ‘Mistress’ at the end of his bully boy commands is adorable). Arcadian is a really fun character, a rogue with a list of crimes a mile long and a silver-tongued devil to boot! He wound up in the Enclave (The Blue Angel). The theories of the TFD have been floating about for centuries, only the Time Lords were foolish enough to build one (as Braxiatel beautifully points, ‘Ouch’). There is mentioned of Temporal Summits. The decrepitude of the Time Lords is the foundation of their tyranny? Braxiatel points out in his brilliantly dry fashion that if people have to die on Gryben let it be cleanly. If one drop of Monan blood is shed it will put their relationship with Gallifrey on a war footing. Narvin is such a snivelling toad, he prepares for Presidential mourning before Romana is declared dead! Arcadian is only in it for the crime and the scale of thieving from the thieves really appeals! The sudden appearance of the Inquisitor made me squeal…I’d forgotten she made a cameo in this one. There is an impeachment against Romana for her questionable decision in this affair. Romana has been manoeuvred into ordering a pre-emptive strike against a world of asylum seekers; this is some really dirty politics. Nepenthe commits suicide rather than reveal which Time Lord has orchestrated this affair.

Standout Performance: Miles Richardson is such a terrific scene stealer as Braxiatel, his rich silky voice is perfectly suited to the politics he is embroiled in.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Well now, did someone hear a pin drop?’
‘Madam my business is dirty enough, damned if I’ll stoop to politics.’
‘K.9 we have been unfilterated!’ ‘Infiltrated, mistress.’
‘This woman has killed herself and you think only of your evidence?’

Audio Landscape: The opening scenes feel a little weak, as though the director and sound engineer are just testing the waters to see if this sort of storytelling can work. The atmosphere soon gives way to the plot, which is more than distracting. A wind swept barren landscape, time travel capsules landing, staser guns fired and alarms set off. Leela walks across rubble in the wastelands and comes across a fire spitting out heat. I loved the mixture of the McGann TARDIS purr with the War Games SIDRAT hum, just gorgeous. The bazaar on Gryben is a mixture of exotic music, insectoid voices and hustle and bustle. K.9 smashes a bar up with his nose gun.

Musical Cues: I really like the theme tune, its oddly intrusive but mysterious at the same time and has an ominous ticking clock in the background. Dramatic organ music punctuates the larger moments in the story, pleasingly reminiscent of the music from The Deadly Assassin and The Invasion of Time.

Isn’t that Odd: Helen Goldwyn, whose performances have always been mixed, is hopelessly melodramatic as Nepenthe making her Free Time cause little more than another forgettable despot cult.

Result: Fronting a series with Lalla Ward and Louise Jameson is so intimidating to the other spin offs I’m not sure why they bothered! This is a very strong start for the Gallifrey series, it takes no time in establishing its own identity and it juggles some really juicy ideas about. Plus unlike the Excelis series it leaves a lot of intriguing threads dangling to be followed up later; what happened to Andred, who tried to set up Romana, what will be the result of the forthcoming judicial enquiry…? It’s a sharp, intelligent piece of writing by Alan Barnes and the chosen regular cast share fantastic chemistry. Witty lines and characters keep the piece even and the overall effect is a series that you want to follow with some enthusiasm: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

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